Airbus' larger commercial aircraft are well-known, but it's also in the business of concocting experimental aeroplanes, including this small guy, called the "E-Fan". What makes it special is the fact its engines are powered by electricity, affording it a low-noise, eco-friendly profile. It recently took to the air in its maiden flight, paving the way for the technology's potential introduction in other aircraft.
As Inhabitat's Lidija Grozdanic writes, while the 6.67m plane managed to get off the ground (and land safety) it won't be breaking any speed or distance records, at least for now. It can get up to a respectable 220km/h — with a cruising speed of 160km/h — on its 30kW engines and it only cost $US16 per hour to power, as opposed to the $US55 for a similarly-sized jet-fuel guzzler, but that's a far cry from being useful in the commercial space.
It gets its juice from 120 250V Li-ion batteries stored in the wings and can keep the plane in the air for around 45-60 minutes, with a recharge time of one hour. The Airbus brochure mentions that a quick-swap system would vastly decreased the time it takes for it to get back into the air. Of course, batteries present their own safety issues, though Airbus is confident they're up to the task:
Extensive research and stress testing has proven that the E-Fan battery system provides ample safety margins. Close monitoring of all battery cell parameters is performed during test flights.
There's also a backup battery in case the main ones fail, which lasts around 15 minutes.
It might only be good as a stunt plane for now, but eventually it should prove a nice alternative to say, nuclear-powered planes.
Photo: Artem Tchaikovski